Dr. Allison Berry sits at a table at the Rainshadow Café in downtown Sequim (pronounced “Squim”), a 110-mile drive northwest of Seattle, describing the tsunami of hatred that has come her way during the pandemic. She’s young, smiles a lot, wears woolen sweaters and scarves, and has been the health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties since 2018; before that, she was a doctor at a local clinic run by the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe.
To be able to sit indoors at the café, customers have to show proof of vaccination. The mandate was pushed by Berry this past September following Washington state’s reopening. A subsequent Covid surge had swamped the two local hospitals, put all elective procedures on hold, and led to a fearsome wave of intubations and deaths. Until the emergence of the vaccine-dodging Omicron variant, the mandate meant that diners in Clallam County, on the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula, could eat and drink in relative safety.
But it also meant that Berry—who had already attracted the ire of anti-shutdown advocates in the summer of 2020 when she asked the county to postpone fully reopening businesses by two weeks—became a lightning rod for anti-maskers, anti-government militias, and QAnon conspiracists. Unfortunately for her, these included Sequim’s QAnon-supporting mayor—a hairdresser and motorcycle aficionado named William Armacost—as well as a majority of the city council, three of whose six members had been appointed during Armacost’s mayorship when sitting councillors died or resigned. This past September, hundreds of demonstrators began showing up outside the county courthouse in downtown Sequim. The council stood on the sidelines, finally passing a nonbinding resolution condemning Berry’s public health mandate.
“People called for my public hanging,” Berry says quietly. This wasn’t, to say the least, what she had signed up for when she joined the department three years earlier. “It was insane.” When Berry implemented the vaccine mandate for indoor dining, right-wing websites started focusing on her and the little town of Sequim. “We started getting calls and threats from way outside the county. We became a rallying cry for anti-government forces. People were threatening to kill me on Facebook, tried to find my address to go to my house.”
Berry was receiving hundreds of threatening phone messages and e-mails every day. One text read: “Sleep with one eye open. I’m coming for you.” Much of the bile aimed at her, she recalls, was “really misogynistic. Think of your most colorful misogynistic language—that’s what came my way.” Young men in souped-up pickup trucks flying American flags would cruise her neighborhood—her address was kept private, but her enemies knew what part of the county she lived in. “My daughter couldn’t go outside, because we didn’t want people to see us,” she remembers. “I was so scared I wasn’t sleeping. I’d keep it together during the day and cry at night.” Eventually, fearing for both her safety and her mental well-being, Berry and her young daughter left the county.